For five years, I lead a Bible study at my previous church in Boise, Idaho. There was one guy in my Bible study that didn’t care for me, or at least that is how it seemed to me. I remember sitting in my pastor’s office talking about him often and saying how he frustrated me. Each time my pastor would tell me you need to pray for him. At first, I wasn’t so sure that I wanted to even pray for him, but thankfully I did pray for him. What ended up happening? The Lord ended up changing my heart towards this man. What also ended up happening is the Lord did such a powerful work in me praying for this man that when other difficult situations arose, I also prayed for them and the same thing happened the Lord changed me.
What I had to learn and what my Pastor was trying to get me to see is that it’s not just answering people’s questions that matters, but also shepherding people in the truth and caring for them with biblical truth. Sadly at this time when this situation happened with this man now many years ago, I wasn’t good at that. I’m still learning and still growing in what this looks like for me, to be gracious with others, and yes to pray for those challenging people.
Theology is the study of God. Theological precision and theological clarity both matter and have a long history in the history of the Church. You can’t read R.C. Sproul without marveling at his ability to say profound things simply in an easy to digest manner that will help you to think and grow in your knowledge and understanding of the Bible.
Some people have experienced those who know how to answer theological questions in very profound ways that seem to not only answer the question but take it to another level with their depth of insight and understanding. These people are gifts to the church. But we need to be careful. In my Bible study, I had new Christians and even seasoned Christians who were growing in their knowledge of the Scriptures and were at different abilities in doing so. I needed to learn the lesson I did because as the leader of the Bible study my job was to walk alongside them. I’ll admit at first I didn’t do that well and often went beyond them and their ability to understand. But as I kept growing, I kept focusing on the people there and ministering them with the Word.
Theological clarity and theological precision aim to help people love the Lord and love one another more in our local churches. The purpose of sound doctrine is not to wield it as a weapon, but to minister to people in a manner that is consistent not only with biblical doctrine but also how biblical doctrine is to adorn our lives.
There was a breaking point in one of my Bible studies with this difficult man. The head of the men’s ministry was at the Bible study, as was the other guy and me. This difficult man and I could not hear each other’s points, and the head of the men’s ministry said you both need to work this out and how you talk to each other needs to change. That day was a breakthrough for me. I saw at that moment, how I was talking to him was all wrong. I was seeing this man as an opponent to be won with my theological skill, precision, and clarity.
I was sitting in the same pastor’s office talking about another challenging to me situation unrelated to the one I shared before. What my pastor said next changed how I approach dealing with difficult people when he said, “Begin to see people through the lens of the Chief Shepherd.”
You see, you and I need the grace of God. We need to understand that left to ourselves we cannot do the Christian life. We need the help of the Lord who promises to provide not only divine help but divine empowerment through the Holy Spirit to help us face whatever challenges we may be facing today.
The next time you are facing a challenging situation, please stop and pray. Ask yourself, “Am I seeing this situation or person as an argument to be won, or am I seeing this person as my fellow image bearer in need of the grace of Christ like me?” Asking that question will often lead you to say less but will also help you to exercise wisdom and to act in a more understanding and gracious way with others.
Theological precision and theological clarity are excellent and necessary tools that aim to help us towards sound living before the face of God. Our goal in ministering to people is to not only help them grow in the Bible but also to help them see by our own lives what that doctrine looks like applied. We need not only teachers who can guide us into the truth. People also need examples to fill out what that doctrine looks like in the stuff of daily life.
The goal of theological precision and clarity is the same as that of the Christian life to become more like Christ. Theological clarity and precision aim to do this by helping people grow in their knowledge and skill in handling the Word so that they may be wise and discerning in the stuff of daily life. Each day all of us face challenging situations, but by beginning to see those situations and people in the right way, we can provide real help to them by sharing with them the grace of God and teaching them from the authoritative Word of God motivated by a heart of love for God and service to others for the glory of Christ.